We have discussed throughout the many months since 2011 ended the importance of keeping Michael Vick healthy, happy and under center each and every week of 2012. It's a must, right? Head coach Andy Reid has pointed out, on more than one occasion, how the final four teams in last year's playoffs had the same starting quarterback each week.
It seems like a simple formula: Keep your quarterback healthy and on the field, and you have a better chance of winning games.
When a team has a quarterback as good as Vick, yeah, it's easy to understand that the Eagles are much better with him on the field than holding a clipboard on the sidelines nursing an injury.
So, Vick has been peppered with questions about his approach for 2012, as in, Hey Michael, are you going to play it any different this year?
It's an obvious question, one asked by reporters who haven't had the experience of making a split-second decision with a 300-pound defensive linemen breathing down their necks. It is very easy for us -- you and me -- to suggest to Vick that he has to get down and slide instead of taking on defensive backs, and that he doesn't have to keep *every *play alive in and out of the pocket.
Live for another day, Michael, live for another day.
Easy for us to say.
Now, yeah, certainly, Vick bears a lot of responsibility here. He does have to be smarter about exposing his body to hits. ESPN's Ron Jaworski studied Vick -- and 29 other NFL starting quarterbacks -- and calculated that Vick was hit 11 times every game last year, and that is a ridiculous number. That's just inviting trouble.
So it would be wise for Vick to -- OK, I'll say it -- get down and slide and run out of bounds and throw the ball away if nothing is open on a few plays a game to stay alive for the ensuing snap.
But it isn't all on Vick. Here are other ways the Eagles can help keep their quarterback healthy ...
1. Use Maximum-Protection Blocking Schemes
The conventional way to go after Vick is to, well, go after Vick. Defenses blitz him and try to hit him and force him into bad decisions. Is a strong counter move keeping some extra blockers in to provide more protection for Vick?
I don't know how many times the Eagles use max protect. I don't know how Howard Mudd feels about the protection, or how it impacts Marty Mornhinweg's passing attack. I just know that any hit the Eagles can avoid with Vick, the longer he plays.
Certainly, the Eagles have built-in checks when they see blitzes coming. These adjustments are called out by Vick in his pre-snap cadence and they are vitally important. Maybe instead of a change to the blocking scheme, the Eagles call for a three-step-and-throw-it passing play. Maybe they audible to a running play.
Whatever happens, the Eagles must lessen the blow of Vick seeing so many blitzes. If the offense makes defenses pay for blitzing, defenses won't blitz. It's as simple, and as complicated, as that.
2. Run The Football More
This is not to suggest that Andy Reid drastically alters the pass/run ratio. I think, in fact, that the Eagles are right there where they need to be with regard to how much they throw the ball.
But would a couple or three more runs each game ease the burden on Vick? Maybe. Can it hurt the offense? It sure shouldn't, not with LeSean McCoy and a talented group of young running backs toting the rock.
The Eagles have a well-stocked offense. They have weapons all around, a strong offensive line and ton of continuity. They are loaded, from this perspective.
This offense can be just as devastating running the football as it can throwing the ball. McCoy is that good. The line can be that physical, if given the chance to get into a rhythm.
So go ahead and run it just a smidge more. Take the ball out of Vick's hands. Maybe it makes a difference keeping him on the field in the long run.
3. Make Something Happen On Special Teams
I like that the Eagles have DeSean Jackson returning punts, and that they have a handful of talented youngsters pushing to impress in the return game on kickoffs. A big special teams return keeps the offense off the field and gives Vick a chance to stay on the sidelines, safe and sound.
The Eagles were vastly disappointing in the return game last season. Bobby April knows it. He wants explosiveness this year. The Eagles are going to have some talented return men pushing for playing time in the preseason -- Damaris Johnson, Mardy Gilyard and Brandon Boyton are leading candidates.
The kickoff return game has not been especially dynamic since Brian Mitchell roamed the range. There was a J.R. Reed return here and there, but for the most part Mitchell was last legitimate threat in the kickoff game.
That has to change. Let's hope it does this year.
4. Defense, Take That Ball Away!
Nothing makes a quarterback's life easier than having a great defense. The Eagles have overhauled the D these last couple of years and have a lot going for them on that side of the ball.
Juan Castillo wants to play pressure defense, wants to be aggressive, wants to take the football away. He wants his defense to score points.
That is music for Vick's ears. Give the offense a lead, some advantageous field position and you will see Vick on the Vick a whole lot more.
See, it's not just on No. 7. Keeping Vick healthy requires a team effort, on and off the field.